“Have you ever noticed that when a symphony or a concert goes well, it feels symbolic of heaven and the eternal?” Janelle Wright said wistfully, while poring over a pile of sheet music. The sheets were spread over her desk, between three coffee cups. Instead of warming up her coffee, Janelle often went to the kitchen and poured a second or even a third cup. So green, orange and dark blue coffee cups set on the desk, each containing varying levels of tepid coffee. It was an idiosyncrasy that husband Walter found somewhat amusing. In his wheelchair he rolled into the study. His emphysema had crippled his ability to walk. But it had not dampened his personality. He almost always smiled. Rarely did he ever have a frown on his face.
“No, I haven’t noticed that, at least recently.” Walter said. “But I can see where an analogy might be made.”
“Rev. Pagels noted last week in his sermon that in heaven there is no strife. Whether we take the Garden of Eden story as fact, or as a story intended to instruct us in spiritual truth, there is harmony in the Garden, a place that was intended to be like heaven. Everything is peaceful and contented. There are no sour notes. The music of the spheres is in harmony. It’s like an orchestra playing in perfect pitch, not an instrument is off key. All is in harmony. There is not a sour note. The Garden of Eden must have been like that.”
Walter sipped a cup of cocoa he had brought with him. “Well, that goes to show our local orchestra is not akin to the Garden of Eden.”
Janelle, her glasses on, gave a smile and dropped her pen down on the table. “Boy, that’s the truth.” She shook her head. “When members of an orchestra start playing, they can blend into perfect melody. It’s when they’re talking and doing other things that the chaos begins. Especially some members of the orchestra. Put an instrument in their hand and they can produce beautiful music. Their words are not always as sweet.”
Walter wheeled his chair near her desk. “You’re basically talking about Dick Young and his brother, Nick.”
The antipathy between the two trumpet players were well known, and had been punctuated by an occasional shouting match during the last season. Dick had not been with the orchestra when it played the annual Christmas concert. The other musicians assumed he was out on another drug binge. He had missed the previous concert too, a fact that didn’t seem to bother the others. They were fed up with Dick Young and his antics. Admittedly, he brought stirring musical abilities to the group, but he also brought a police rap sheet and record of taking illegal substances.
“Give Dick his dues, he can be charming at times. When he gives a solo performance, he can captivate the audience, both with his trumpet playing and his quips. His behavior the rest of the time hasn’t endeared him to others in the orchestra,” Janelle said.
She grabbed the blue coffee cup and sipped the now lukewarm coffee. She sighed. “He got into drugs and it can take a long time to be completely free from that. You try to get out, you slip, then have to pick yourself up and try again. It’s like trying to quit smoking. You don’t quit once, you have to quit five, six and seven times before you are totally free of it,” she said.
Walter nodded. “That’s very true. I think Nick is up to his 57th time.”He winked.
“Give him credit, he can be an amusing fellow and very helpful if you need something. He does have some positive traits.” She shook her head and a note of exasperation came into her voice. “I suppose it’s a moot point since we haven’t seen him for a while.”
“He has been absent without permission before. But, since your promotion, this time he would have to get your approval to join the orchestra again. But you’re a sweetheart, Janelle, with a soft heart. You’ll probably give it.”
“If I did, the orchestra would be in an uproar. Dick has not made a lot of friends there. And if wanted to come back he would have to make an effort to get along better with his brother. Last season they played in the same orchestra but hardly spoke two words to one another. I think they’re still not speaking. Dick left town for that matter. I doubt he telephones Dear Brother Nick to say ‘hi.’”
“I’m sure Nick doesn’t communicate with his sibling either. His brother is not on Nick’s speed dial.
Walter chuckled. “They may be brothers, but they are very different people. Nick is quiet and studious. He’s reserved and laconic. Dick always headed for the nightclubs and the bars. His temperament is more outgoing, if not wild. The two brothers are like oil and water. They don’t mix. I gather there was a lot of tension between them when they were growing up. They were brothers but they were never best buddies. And they never will be. But it’s not just Nick who is upset with his brother. Dick has ruffled the musical feathers of any number of people, including members of the orchestra. Having him around just doesn’t guarantee peace and tranquility. But not having him, and we don’t have him right now, means the orchestra isn’t quite as good.”
Janelle nodded. She raised her hand and pointed a finger toward the ceiling. “Well, one thing does guarantee peace and tranquility. Chocolate. There are still some brownies left from the batch I made this weekend. Want to finish them off?”
“Yes. You are almost as good a cook as you are a musician.”
Janelle rose from her chair. “Don’t go away, I’ll get them and be right back.”
She started toward the kitchen then swiftly turned around, rushed back to the table and grabbed the three coffee cups in her arms, then scooted off. Walter just smiled.
She was back in a minute with a silver platter of four brownies. She offered the platter to Walter, who took one and sunk his teeth into it. Janelle sat down in her chair.
“Hmmm…these were scrumptious the first time I tasted them and they’re still scrumptious now,” Walter said. “Why don’t you give up music and just spend all your time baking?”
Janelle giggled. “I appreciate the compliments, but I know you don’t mean that.”
He slowly shook his head. “I don’t know. There’s an element of humor in that but the brownies and other treats are so good I’m getting more and more serious about it. You’re a great chef, as well as a musician. But when you’re busy with the orchestra, the quality of meals in the house goes down.”
“Hey! Not by much. I do get busy at times, but you are fed well, honey.” She pointed a finger again but this time at her husband. “In fact, you are fed so well you could take off a few pounds, my dear.”
He laughed. “Nonsense. Eating your fine cooking and watching the Yankees lose is two of the few pleasures I have left in life. And the problem is the Yankees won’t be losing a lot this year.” He shook his head. “They always seem to have a good team. It’s not fair. And the Twins always lose against them, especially in the post-season. It’s just not fair.”
Janelle tensed but also smiled. She was used to her husband’s rants about the Yankees but always found them laced with humor. Ironically, Walter was not much of a baseball fan in his youth. Nor for a while after he had moved to Minnesota. But some years ago he began to be a fan of the Minnesota Twins and developed an affinity for the game. However, fans of the Twins had to face the harsh reality that Minnesota was a small-market team; the New York Yankees were a large- market team, and one of the two richest teams in baseball. When the Twins made it to the baseball playoffs, they almost always had to face the Yankees, and the Yankees consistently won the playoffs.
“It’s not fair. It’s difficult to compete with large market team. They have a payroll that near….what….$280 million? When a good hitter comes on the market or a good pitcher, the Yanks simply buy him. They signed Gerrit Cole this year after he became a free agent. The contract was for about $330 million over ten years. What other team could offer him that kind of money?”
“The LA Dodgers and possibly the Houston Astros. Maybe the Angels?” Janelle said. She had heard the rant by her husband before and could answer the questions he raised during his tirades.
“But you did mention, honey, that Mr. Cole had been a Yankee fan since his youth and wanted to play for New York. So he didn’t go there simply because of the money.”
“That’s true in this case. The best pitcher in baseball and why did he have to be a Yankee fan? Why couldn’t he had been a Minnesota Twins fan. Then he could have come here.” he said. “But the Yankees have bought many other players who didn’t care one way or another about playing in New York. They just signed for the money.”
“Last year it was the same thing. The Twins got into the playoffs and had a five game series with the Yankees. Lost 3-1. And this year, with Cole, the Yanks have an even more powerful team. How do you compete with that? I’m glad to Astros beat the Yankees in the Championship. I don’t even blame the Astros for stealing signs. You gotta do something to compete with the Yanks.”
She was about to tell Walter not to get so upset when he offered up his cup.
“Could I get some bourbon in this?”
She showed a knowing smile and took the cup.
“Yes, dear, I’ll get you some,” she said.
As she walked to the kitchen, she smiled. She was not an enthusiastic sports fan but she was delighted that Walter was a big Minnesota Twins supporter. Walter was now confined, for the most part, to his wheelchair, so limited as to what he could do. But they had the Extra Innings cable channel, that broadcast Major League baseball games. Walter could watch almost every Minnesota Twins game and he did so avidly and joyfully. He always tried to be optimistic even given his handicap. But when watching the Twins, he didn’t have to try. He was happy and joyful. And when the Twins won, he was in a good mood until the next game.
She opened the liquor cabinet, grabbed the bourbon and poured in a little. She was going to buy him a computer baseball game. With the game, he could defeat the Yankees, at least on virtual space. She walked the cup back to him and sat down again at her desk.
“I will be glad when baseball season begins again, Walter. You tend to be happier with the Twins on in the field.”
There was another reason she enjoyed Walter’s relatively new enthusiasm for baseball. Nine months before her sister, Deb, who she was very close to, and her husband Richard, had moved to North Carolina to a very nice senior living facility. The Minnesota winters had just gotten too cold for them. She still felt the loss but she had found new friends, Janice Rowell and her husband, Augus. Among their shared interests was baseball. The couple had spent time in the south and were passionate fans of the Atlanta Braves. Janelle was happy that the Braves were in the National League and the Twins were in the American League. They rarely played one another, which meant there was no strife between the two couples.
Walter smiled. “I am convinced now that civilization coincides with the opening day of baseball season. Are there any greater words in the English language than ‘Play Ball?”
She chuckled and picked up her pen.
“So why are you pushing yourself so hard, Janelle? The next community concert isn’t until April.” Walter sipped his coffee refreshed by the bourbon. “You need to take a breather.”
Walter placed the oxygen mask to his face and tuned the dial mounted on the wheelchair. He had once played tuba with the orchestra, but the disease had rendered his lungs too weak to play. He still owned his auto repair shop although he could not work there due to the illness. He enjoyed working on cars, but he could not even supervise due to the fumes in the shop, which were hazardous to his lungs.
“Well, we have to prepare. A concert takes a lot of work and a lot of practice. It’s like Spring Training for the Twins. Before opening day, you have to put a lot of work in.”
“Touché,” Walter said.
“If all the musicians would devote themselves to learning their own parts like you once did, I could relax. But between their real-life obligations and their varying degrees of motivation, we’ll need a full three months to pull the next concert together. We barely pulled off the Christmas concert by the skin of our teeth. Baseball teams may need only six weeks in Spring Training, but musicians need three months.”
He laughed. “Speaking of which, how is Desmond Sykes doing?”
The day after the last concert performance, Desmond had taken a spill at the skating rink and split his upper lip on another fallen skater’s blade.
“He’ll be lucky if he ever plays again, poor thing. And that’s yet another challenge we have to resolve soon. I’ve only got one trumpet player! I’ve got a call out to local colleges but haven’t gotten a nibble yet. Oh, I hope I don’t have to resort to recruiting high-schoolers. They are so unreliable,” Janelle said.
“I heard Dick Young is back in town.”
“Really? I didn’t know that. But there are some days when I’d take a high-schooler over Dick Young. For one thing a high-schooler would be more mature.”
“Well, I may be in the minority, but I like Dick Young, I know he’s a wild card, but you have to admit he’s an exceptional trumpet player.
“When he’s sober, Janelle said. “Are you sure he’s back?”
I heard through the orchestra grapevine that Young was living with his parents and that he’d entered a rehab program.”
“Knowing Dick he probably dropped out of the program, just as he dropped out of the scholarship program he was in.”
She sighed. The young man was talented. Walter was right about that. If he’d apply himself, he might be in Harry James territory. But Dick would not stay serious about his music. And he should. To Janelle, Dick had a talent, a fine talent for music. He was blessed with a gift and he should appreciate it, not treat it indifferently. If he came to his senses, twenty years from now he would be profoundly grateful he had used his gift. If he kept his desultory path, he would be one of the men who talked of his profound regrets when gray began spreading through his hair.
“I must admit my views about Dick are colored because I really want him to use his talents in our orchestra. Any piece of music is better if his trumpet is blowing. He does have immense talent. I just hope he doesn’t throw it away.”
“Maybe rehab will help,” Walter said.
“With Dick, as with many others, it seems to be off and on. One time he’s in and the next time I hear about him, he’s out again.” She shook her head. “It’s a shame. Once you got hooked on those drugs, it seems to be so difficult to get off them. I just hope he does get free.”
“Me, too. But drugs and liquor has destroyed any number of talents, in both music and literature. Just hope it doesn’t happen to Dick.”
“I’m attending a meeting this afternoon with the conductor and several of the board members of the orchestra. Hope it goes well and I hope I hear some good news about Dick,” Janelle said.
Listening to the three board members drone on, Janelle thought the meeting was going about as well as she thought it would. They had a quorum even though the board chairman was not in attendance. He had phoned and said he had a touch of the flu. Janelle guessed Emmitt Walker just didn’t want to be in the same room as the rest of the board. All board meetings must be the same, she thought, whether the meetings were of the Chamber of Commerce, the Ballet Club, an education agency, or the NRA or the local Socialists. Ninety-five percent of the time is wasted in idle and silly talk that will get on your nerves. You needed to take a tranquilizer before walking in the room.
She sat at a table with the three board members, and Enrique ‘Ricky’ Esposito: the conductor. He had been conductor of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic but budget cuts had caused his resignation. However, he had found a new home in Green Glades. Janelle and Esposito hadn’t settled on one of the musical pieces for the spring program. The meeting was basically a chance to give the board members an update, although there really wasn’t much to update.
Janelle smiled at Ernie Wodtke. He was the board member she liked the most. Bucking the trend of store chains, he had founded a clothing store in Green Glades thirty years before. Even in the days of the internet and online sales and massive chain stores, he had made a prosperous company. Now his son was helping in the business and the father and son had established a second store in the town of Lyden Hills, thirty miles away from Green Glades. A number of business people had told Wodtke that he would not succeed in these high-tech computer days but the company’s revenues remained strong. Janelle hoped Wodtke would have a success in the second store. Wodtke smiling, stocky man, had always been a strong supporter of the symphony. He looked at Janelle and gave her a friendly wink.
“Looks like it may be a long year,” he said.
She chuckled. “Meetings are where you hash things out and we’re hashing.”
The two other members of the board were Oliver Greenway and Annabell Jones. Oliver was a slim, officious man, who always wore a coat and tie to meetings. He was balding and kept trying on toupees but none of them seem to fit his skull and, occasionally, looked so odd they provoked laughter. To Jelene, Oliver could occasionally be aggravatingly petty and at times she found his statements not to have any merit at all. She merely tried to put up with them.
Annabell was an attractive woman but could be testy at times and always wanted her own way. Annabell also had a strong personality, and wanted to be consulted on even very minor items concerning the symphony. Her personality, Janelle thought, could be compared to Greenway’s. However, she didn’t wear a rug.
The group had listened to a number of pieces on CDs but no consensus emerged. Esposito, who had a temper, had clashed with Annabell more than a few times. When the two were in the same room, Janelle kept an eye on both of them to make sure she headed off any potential verbal battles. She had spoken to both of them privately and asked them to maintain a civil manner and a civil tone. Sometimes they managed….
“I enjoyed most of the pieces on the disc,” Jones said. “Some more than others but they all seemed so random. I didn’t detect a theme.”
“That’s because there isn’t one yet.”
Janelle did not like board meetings. Trying to sell business people on the music to be chosen was difficult. In her mind, the music to be played should be decided on its own merit, not the anticipated box office receipts.
“It really does help with the marketing if we have a theme. What about a spring theme?”
“Are you sure? Couldn’t the marketing just say something like ‘Real Good Music Will be Played at the Community Center. Don’t miss it!” Janelle said.
“Never worked for Madison Avenue, have you?” Jones said.
“No, and I wouldn’t want too.” Janelle said. “Why do you have to market good music? Marketing doesn’t improve Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto. It’s music for the ages.”
“The orchestra isn’t performing the Emperor Concerto,” Greenway said. “If we were, maybe we wouldn’t need marketing. But we do need marketing for our concerts. I know it may be frustrating but that’s the way life, and marketing, is.”
“How about a spring theme? Jones said. “In Minnesota, in winter, spring is always welcome.”
“How about ‘Springing into Spring’?” Janelle said, with a hint of sarcasm.
Wodkte noted the sarcasm and gave a sly smile.
“Well, Stravinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring’ springs to mind,” Esposito said.
“Isn’t that a little controversial?” Greenway said.
“I see,” the conductor nodded. “You fear a reprise of the commotion at the 1913 premiere?” Esposito had to hold his laughter.
Janelle gave a silent groan. The conductor had a bad temper and his sense of humor wasn’t praiseworthy either. Then again, she supposed she would have made a laugh or two but the meeting had began to get on her nerves.
A few other suggestions were tossed on the table but didn’t get much support.
“Why don’t we do something of a Caribbean theme?” Wodtke said. “Caribbean themes are always more attractive to people than themes set in Minnesota…or someplace like Alaska. You ever notice that? A concert set around Enya’s ‘Caribbean Blue’. Now that would attract crowds.”
“Have to admit you may be right,” Janelle said. “She is a great singer. A Caribbean Blue concert. Think that would go over?”
“Let’s keep that as an option,” Jones said. “I think that might be a good idea. Could get some pictures from the Bahamas and decorate the chamber. Doesn’t everybody want to take a trip to the Caribbean?”
“There are times when I wish I were in the Caribbean,” Greenway said.
Out there on the beach and sands you could ditch the rug, Wodtke thought. Probably get sweaty on the beach. Then he shook his head. Yes, it’s time to leave, he thought. I’m getting giddy.
“OK, let’s keep thinking of a unifying theme. The Caribbean is an option but let’s think of one or two others for our next meeting. Remember, there really isn’t too much time until our next get-together. Let’s have some brilliant ideas,” he said.
The board members gathered any papers they had and walked toward the door. Janelle flipped a thumbs up sign to Wodtke and smiled.
“Sometimes I think you are the voice of reason in these meetings, Ernie,” she said.
“Thank you, Janelle. Have to admit I’m on a number of boards like this and, often, there isn’t a voice of reason. How is Walter getting along?”
“To be honest, I am optimistic. He was been doing good for about three weeks. I know emphysema isn’t curable but the medicines the doctors have been giving him do seem to be helping. He is breathing better. And our pastor has been praying for him.”
“Well, prayer and medication are a good combination. They have helped me a number of times.”
“I am, of course, very sensitive to his condition. When he strains to breathe I tighten up and ache to see him like that. He has been considerably better the past couple of weeks. I just hope it keeps up.”
“So do I. He is in my prayers too.”
“Thank you.” She smiled. “He is also feeling good because the baseball season is coming up. The players are down in Florida or Arizona in Spring Training. On the calendars in the house he has circled the date for Opening Day. The Twins are playing Oakland and it’s a home game. On that day Walter will be staring at our twenty-seven inch television rooting for a win.”
“So will I. I am counting down the days. It’s about….thirty-three, I believe until the first pitch is thrown.”
“I’m glad the season isn’t catching you off guard, Ernie.”
“Not a chance,” he laughed.
As he waved her goodbye, the conductor walked up to Janelle. He looked serious, Janelle thought.
“Thought I’d tell you about a rumor I heard. If true, it might help us solve some problems but might cause others.”
“For some reason, Ricky, that reminds me of the old Chinese proverb ‘May you live in interesting times.’ It’s both a blessing and a curse.”
“Yes. Well, here’s the blessing part. I’ve heard Dick Young has returned home and is living with his parents, so there is some supervision. The bad news is Dick Young has returned home.”
Janelle took a deep breath “That is news. With his ability on the trumpet, he could solve a great many problems for us.”
“And cause a great many problems too.”
“Yes. That too. Is he in rehab?”
“The rumor that reached me said yes. He had voluntarily signed up and had pledged to stay clean and sober. I was told Dick looked clear-eyed and coherent. Ready to play.”
“On his good days, he can play up a storm. I’ll give him that. And he can make any orchestra sound good. We are better with him than without him, Ricky.”
The conducted nodded. “I am aware of that. I am well aware of that. But I think all the musicians are also aware that he can bring problems. He plays the trumpet but he has angered so many people he should be an amateur boxer because more than one person – including his own brother – wants to punch him out, and I would sympathize with the puncher.”
“Perhaps if he gets back with the orchestra we can hire a referee,” Janelle said.
“We might need one. There’s a lot of people who don’t like him. But then again, I have to admit that there’s a number of people who don’t like me.”
“Nonsense, Ricky. You’re a sweetheart.”
The remark brought a huge smile to his lips. Janelle grinned then said, under her breath, “Ricky is a man who can strut standing up or sitting down.”
“Do you think we should make some feelers about suggesting Dick should return to our little group? I’m sure his trumpet is still in working order. Perhaps working with us would be good for him while in therapy.”
“It probably would,” Janelle said. She thought a moment. “Yes, we could send out some feelers and see if he wants to come back. I think it would be good for him, and might help him with his problem. He may not want to. You never can tell what Dick will do, but it he does I would like to see him come back. As I said, he will make the orchestra better.”
“He could also wreck it.”
“Yes, we’d have to keep that in mind too. I’m guessing most members of the orchestra would prefer Dick stay in therapy and away from us.”
Ricky nodded. “Our fellow musicians are not part of the Dick Young Fan Club.”
“The Trumpeter’s Swan Song” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
The minute Janelle Wright, the Green Glades Orchestra’s director, accepts Dick Young as the band’s second trumpeter, the countdown, until tragedy strikes, begins. Between the harmonic melodies, there are frictions and discord between members, deteriorated by his addition. While a brilliant trumpet player, Dick’s drug dependency and flamboyant, irreverent attitude negatively affect the band’s fragile balance, creating even more clashes. Despite Janelle’s hope that, with encouragement and patience, he would turn his life around, things will soon get out of hand, leaving everyone stunned. The more dreadful secrets are revealed, the greater becomes the danger lingering above their heads…
When Dick’s twin and the band’s first trumpeter, Nick, falls onto the cobblestones during their live performance, the music stops and the rest of the band rushes to his side. What Janelle was hoping to be a simple faint proves to be a horrific, poisonous death that shakes her to the very core. Out of nowhere, several of the orchestra members appear to have an axe to grind, but Dick is the prime suspect and he is being charged with his brother’s gruesome murder. Convinced of his innocence and driven by a strong hunch, Janelle is willing to dig deeper, regardless of the consequences…
In the process of bringing the truth to light, Janelle is faced with mysterious and hidden incidents, which complicate the case even more, distracting her from her initial goal. To her surprise, each member, as if programmed, regurgitates violent episodes between the two brothers, adding no value to her investigation, but further challenging it. As the orchestra’s future is at stake, Janelle’s quest becomes even more urgent. Will she manage to silence the misleading whispers and track down the real murderer? Will she be able to shine the spotlight on what actually happens behind the scenes, so the dark secrets take center stage?
“The Trumpeter’s Swan Song” is an intriguing cozy mystery novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cliffhangers, just pure captivating mystery.